As expected, President Bush vetoed a $124 billion supplemental spending bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that included a timetable that could have required the U.S. to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq no later than October. “Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure,” the president said.
Whether Congress can come up with something the president will sign before lack of funds starts to have a significant effect on troops in the field is another question.
The Democrats who control Congress are far from united.
The option that has received the most attention is setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet in order for funding for the war and for Iraqi reconstruction to continue.
But the most fervent anti-war Democrats say Congress should keep pushing for a timetable. Presidential candidates Joe Biden and John Edwards have recommended sending the same bill back to the president, forcing him to veto it again.
The problem is this war should never have begun. Even if the intelligence on WMDs had been accurate, we argued at the time, Iraq posed no imminent threat to U.S. core interests. Unjustified wars tend to lead to unfortunate outcomes. This one has unleashed tragic sectarian violence, complicated by the presence of al-Qaida and other foreign fighters.
Unless the Iraqi government, which exists more on paper than on the ground, gets its act together more effectively than most believe is possible, U.S. withdrawal, whether tomorrow or years from now, is likely to be followed by more bloody conflict — although there’s a slim chance that the knowledge the U.S. is really leaving will trigger a political resolution with only minimal bloodshed.
To be sure, President Bush has changed strategies and changed military commanders, and there is still a chance the “surge,” which is still not fully implemented, could establish sufficient security for the Iraqi government to take over full control. One can hope for a better outcome than further devolution to civil war.
Perhaps the least-worst option, then, would be a smaller funding bill — enough to keep the troops fully supplied for three months, perhaps four — without conditions. If there’s real progress by then — meaning Iraqis are shouldering more of the burden and U.S. troops are less necessary — then funding for the next few months, during which the U.S. military commitment would be reduced, could be forthcoming. If the Iraqis are not stepping up, an orderly withdrawal should begin.
The war was a bad idea from the outset, but it would be preferable to end it in a way that does the least possible further harm to Iraq.
There’s no guarantee this proposal would do that, but it’s worth a try.